Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part 5: Fleeing Yugoslavia, Escaping the Communist Takeover — Jakob & Katarina Webel Flee toward Germany
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1st Corinthians 10:13)
In this fifth episode of the “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen” family history series, the ethnic-German family of Jakob and Katarina Webel, then living in what is today Croatia, face and struggle with the turmoil of life in the broken-apart country of Yugoslavia. Life in war-maimed Yugoslavia is unimaginably harsh. The family unit’s survival is often tenuous.
As the outcome of World War II becomes predictable the Webels make the hard decision to evacuate their native country. The country that was “home” before World War II would cease to be their family homeland after the Webel family emigrated, leaving behind extended family members (such as Jakob’s father). But where would they go next? Where could they go? Where should they go, to make a new home in post-WWII Europe?
As World War II ended in what was then Yugoslavia the then-occupying “winners” were often quick to exact revenge on people-groups whom they were ethnically adverse to. Ironically, the Yugoslavian “winners” included many Ustaše-allied Roman Catholic Croats, who had previously allied (as quislings) with German occupation Nazis, as well as Communist “partisans”.
In time this aftermath occupation transitioned into a Yugoslavian version of Communism, under Tito (i.e., Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito, a/k/a “Marshal Tito”), who aligned his political control of Yugoslavia with the Soviet Union whenever he deemed it advantageous to do so.
As Tito secured and increased his dictatorial control over Yugoslavia, he directed his “partisan” (i.e., Communist) military forces to impose especially harsh treatments against civilians who were ethnically Hungarian or German — such as Danube Swabian Germans (like the Webels), as well as against ethnic Serbs.
Of special relevance to the Jakob Webel family (who were “Danube Swabian” Germans, ethnically and culturally, a/k/a Volksdeutsche), Yugoslavia’s post-war regime (under Marshal Tito) was enacting merciless reprisals against all having any kind of “German” identity, even those who had resisted the German invaders during the war.
In particular, Marshal Tito decreed that Volksdeutsche in Yugoslavia were enemies of the (new) Yugoslavian state – i.e., deemed untrustworthy and politically hostile to the new Communist government, as if their ethnicity alone made them outlaws (i.e., outside the protection of ordinary laws). As if they were criminals or POWs, these ethnic-German Yugoslavian civilians were captured (or ordered) and forced into “internment” camps (a/k/a concentration camps) – about 110,000 of the local Yugoslavian Volksdeutsche — devoid of basic necessities, subjected to hard labor, deprived of decent healthcare and nutritious food, so that > 40% (probably about 46,000) died as “enemies of state” inside such internment camps after the war.
Marshal Tito’s Communist soldiers savagely implemented other aspects of his so-called “ethnic cleansing” policies, to (allegedly) make Yugoslavia “safe” from perceived (or “foreseeable”) dangers of disloyal/disfavored ethnic groups (like the Swabian Volksdeutsche) who were suspected of being unsympathetic to Tito’s post-war Communist regime.
In effect, ethnic Germans and Hungarians (and some others) were presumed to be “fifth column” traitors or spies, who stayed behind, strategically – on behalf of the retreating armies of Hungary and/or Germany. To combat this alleged “threat”, Marshal Tito’s atrocious dictatorship-enforced programs of terroristic mayhem, murder, and massacre followed the official closure of World War II (in Yugoslavia) – like a new war, on the heels of the immediately preceding (yet officially “ended”) war.
Ironically, many Romans Catholics (including Croatian Ustaše criminals) were shielded from these reprisals (and were shielded even from accountability for their earlier war crimes) by post-war forces, as part of the Rome-based “ratline” movement (a tragic and ugly topic, the details of which this family history report will avoid attempting to describe – see, accord, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratlines_(World_War_II_aftermath) – noting the Roman Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal’s leading role in Croatian atrocities) – yet Protestant “Germans”, such as Lutherans or Anabaptist-like evangelicals, had no such political “shield”.
The “ratline” operations after World War II were politically complex, sometimes realigning WWII “foes” as post-WWII “fellows”, including many examples of American acquiescence to Rome-facilitated protection of Nazi and Ustaše war criminals, to prevent the USSR accessing former Axis “foes”. [See, accord, Mark Aarons & John Loftus, Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis, and the Swiss Banks (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 432 pages.]
Communist-imposed reprisals included revocation of citizenship status, loss of property rights (to private homes and personal property), slave labor impositions, loss of physical liberty to move freely (via imprisonment in concentration camps), many forms of torture (including savage sex crimes against women and children), forced starvation, forced deaths by deprivation of health care (when illnesses were easily treatable), and deportation to Siberia (via arrangements with the Soviet Union’s withdrawing Red Army). Similar fates were experienced by many Hungarians in post-war Yugoslavia.
Genocidal executions (including fusillading executions and torture-caused murders, as well as internment camp-facilitated starvations, etc.) of Danube Swabian Germans (like the Webels) were committed after the war, likely exceeding 60,000 – although “official” records of governmental post-war killings of noncombatant “Germans” (in post-WWII Yugoslavia) report only 27,367 such murders.
Genocidal executions of Hungarians were committed after the war, likely exceeding 50,000 – although official records only report about 35,000 or less. Genocidal post-war killings of Serbs likely exceeded 25,000.
Some of the more fortunate “Germans” (i.e., “Volksdeutsche” – ethnic Germans) of Yugoslavia were allowed to emigrate to Germany or Austria.
However, not waiting for the post-war government’s “permission”, many ethnic-German Danube Swabians (including the Jakob Webel family) fled Yugoslavia after World War II “ended”, to avoid the cruel aftermath regimes that blended Communists and Croats.
Accordingly, many ethnic-German Danube Swabians (“Volksdeutsche”) fled Yugoslavia after World War II “ended”, to avoid the cruel aftermath regimes that blended Communists and Croats.
As the Allies gained the upper hand, against Germany, the German war machine was incessantly hammered on the east by Soviet forces, and on the west by British and American forces. What would happen next?
The German military leadership became especially concerned about the treatment of ethnic Germans in territories that became occupied by Soviet forces. So, as the Soviet military advanced against German-occupied territories in AD1944-AD1945, German authorities strove to evacuate German people to lands west of the Oder-Neisse line (what became the post-WWII border between East Germany and Poland, based mostly on the Oder River and the Lusatian Neisse River). Many ethnic Germans, who did not evacuate voluntarily, were vindictively expelled (or summarily killed) by the incoming Red Army of the Soviet Union.
(A chronology-of-events discussion is reported on page 69-7, beginning with Robert’s birthday [see pages 69-70] as a time-cairn. Dad [Jakob] Webel recalls who the German Army tried again to recruit him – and he recalls how he claimed exemption due to the number of children he and Mom then had, so the German recruiter told Jakob to serve as a clerical “volunteer” [see pages 70-72]. Then the interview shifts to recalling that the war’s outcome was then foreseeable.)
* * * * *
MOM: And I have to run the store again by myself with Reini.
DAD: So I was every day there-
MOM: And Else stayed home and take care of the children and cook and do what she can and she had this long hair.
DAD: At that time already it was we all saw that Germans will lose the war we all saw, before that we know. They came, the Americans, they came, they put on the town, Vincovci, and bombs and bombs, many, many.
DAUGHTER: The American people did?
DAD: American soldier, not people.
DAUGHTER: Why did they do that?
DAD: Why? Because Vinkovci is a place where the railroad goes on 6 different ways so it’s crossways so then they kill that, is no connection with the-
DAUGHTER: At this point was Yugoslavia allied with Germany?
DAD: Not then. Half Yugoslavia was with Germany, half was under Germany, but not to be.
DAUGHTER: Not with it.
DAUGHTER: Vinkovci was under-
DAD: Was with Germany.
MOM: This was war. I had to leave the house and go into the store.
DAD: But they, every once in a while, they bomb and so on , and then the people, the Germans should move to Germany, move to Germany, and mom and the children, I send them to Orlich.
MOM: First was the other things, I had to go every day in the store, till fell apart your office over there.
DAUGHTER: What do you mean “fell apart?”
DAD: Well, around the war is Germany who go, run away, so no is no office.
MOM: No office so there is nobody there.
DAUGHTER: You stay at home then.
MOM: He came home again to run the store and I can stay home for a while and wash and do whatever..
DAD: And then when every day, every other night, came the airplanes, it’s danger for the children because …
DAUGHTER: How long were you a clerk approximately if this time is November?
DAD: Not too long, couple of weeks. But that’s was all collapsing, running down hill.
MOM: Better we stayed at home. They had no windows, we had no doors, just was everything busted from the bombs.
DAD: From the airplanes.
DAUGHTER: This is November.
DAD: A little bit before November, week before . . . .
DAUGHTER: Wasn’t it starting to get cold?
DAD: Yes. It was cold.
MOM: Every day he make the roof, finish the roof off, the roof on the … and we keep all kinds of what you need, how do you say that…?
DAD: The wheat and the barley and everything is on the-
DAUGHTER: Up on the house.
DAD: That is our storage, the farmer.
DAUGHTER: Yeah, the farmer.
MOM: And the roofs are always down. The bombs, they break the-
DAD: Then the bombs fall there, they shake, and the bricks can fall down the roof, the bricks you know.
MOM: And every day they go on the roof, fix the roof, put other things over there.
DAD: It was not broken.
MOM: Fix something, again patch them up, and then the airplanes come and chi..chi..chi only, they have to run down and lay down. Dad put us to Orlich, me and the children.
DAUGHTER: That’s another town. How far away?
MOM: Was a little town.
DAUGHTER: Where your sister lived?
MOM: No. Aunt Christy (Pfeifer) lived there.
DAD: That was about 15, 20 kilometer but in other direction, not in city.
MOM: Not too close to the city.
DAUGHTER: Okay. And Mom went there. By this time was your store gone or were you still running it?
DAD: No, still running it. Me and Reini was running the store. When the bombs came, we just lay flat in the store down, we wait, and close the windows, the outside door.
MOM: This was a wooden outside door..
DAUGHTER: How long did this go on? While you and Rieni ran the store?
DAD: — not long.. And then the German people had to move out, then they came there in the town where mom is, by force, the German army or the German SS, by force take mom in the automobile and brought her to Vinkovci.
MOM: Not in the auto, trucks. The trucks, the big trucks.
DAD: They brought her to Vinkovci and shipped them to Germany, but not by free will, by force, they was watching them not to go run away.
MOM: Yeah, we was watched, on every wagon was a..(soldier).
DAUGHTER: What happened to Aunt Christy? They didn’t take her?
DAD: No. They want to take her but they beg and they promised they will tomorrow morning go with horse and buggies.
MOM: Like the other people went by themselves on horse and buggies.
DAD: They let them stay, and they did again, they stay at home.
MOM: Just then aunt Anna, her mother and father, and her sister, with her 4 children, Eva Brasenkovich, me, and Dad with our 6 children.
DAD: Wait…. Mom and the children who were in Orlich, they went there, and then they came to Vinkovci, there they are station, not station, they stay in the train, and they go pick people from everywhere, more, and she want to go to our place to call me to go along with them, and did not let her, not at all.
MOM: I ask the soldier what was watching the wagon, on every wagon is a soldier and they are up and down and they are watching the people. You are not allowed to go out, not for anything. No, you can go with, then when you have to go somewhere for your own, the soldier had to go with you, watch ‘em, and the other watch the wagon. Then you cannot go anywhere alone.
DAUGHTER: But I know you got out somehow.
MOM: I went under the wagon.
DAD: Under the train.
MOM: Under the train, and I was waiting till on the other side was a town.
DAD: The soldier does not stay here, he goes 3 [or] 4 hundred yard that way, and if he turn your back [probably “his back” is intended here, i.e., if the soldier turns his back you might be able to escape].
DAUGHTER: Explain the train to me again. How did you get out? You went under the train.
DAD: The train stays there and so the soldier goes hundred to two hundred yard that way and that way, and when he go that way and he turned his back-
MOM: No, that soldier was on my wagon, he know, I told him I will,(escape) how you say it, I will run away, if they shoot at me, don’t matter, I will run away, this will be this night. And he don’t have to know. He know it, I told him I will do it. But they don’t let me, nobody let me, I will do it. And he said, I’m very sorry and he was a very young person. He saw I cried and said I go, whatever happen, I left the children and I went down under the train and crawl on the other side and was waiting on the other side for just maybe 2 posts on the whole side, and I was waiting till he turns the back, not the face, and I crawled under those wires all through till in the cornfield. When I was in the cornfield, then was the end. Then I went in this row on the cornfield wherever I get now, night time.
DAD: And she get .. instead go east…she went west.. very far.
MOM: Very far, very and so I had to go, go, go, finally I don’t even know where I am, just finally I came in where houses were, houses, and get teeny little bit, not light, just-, so anyhow, I find the way home.
DAUGHTER: Did you ask directions?
DAD: No. She found the road.
MOM: The streets and finally I know where I am now, it just I am very far away. So I was wet till here, mornings dew, in the cornfield, and I came home, it was just starting daylight and they butchered pigs.
DAUGHTER: Who was home? Dad and Reini and Grandpa.
DAD: Grandpa and Uncle John and his family.
MOM: Uncle John and Anna.
DAD: And Uncle John had butchered 2 pigs, I think 2.
MOM: Yeah, and then when they saw-
DAD: And they was already killed.
MOM: What’s this?, how come I home from Orlich? Why am I here now? And I told them what happened.
DAD: And then, Uncle John, when he heard what’s going on, then he put the horse and the wagon, and the children and he sped away to the village somewhere.
MOM: Somewhere in the village to hide.
DAD: Why? Because the German could pick him up. Left the pigs there, left the grandfather there, left everything there so-
MOM: Then I told him we need bread, something to eat, we are hungry, nothing to eat. And I left the children with Rosie Paisel and with aunt Anna’s father and mother, and then her sister and 4 children and our 5. So I told them then I don’t go back alive, they should never take the children over the border, they should live in town somewhere in the corn, first was Reini, he’s the oldest.
DAD: Reini wasn’t there.
MOM: Oh, not Reini, Else the oldest, just let them down when the train start going and then she can pick up the little ones so was ever, and I don’t come back, I don’t know when I come back or whatsoever happen to me. So we made agreement so that they was kind of sorry. I said, I cannot stand anymore, I have to go. So I went. So Dad said, no, you are not going back. I said, I have to go, I promised, the children are there. And I promised this young soldier. I come back the regular way. I will not come through the field. I come just the regular way, just I want to go to my dad’s house.
DAD: And my dad say I should go along. So, what do I do? Take a wheelbarrow and put in a big sack, not a paper sack, but big sack, bread.
MOM: Bread was not baked, dough was ready and was in the oven. We had to get it home, get bread later.
DAD: Okay, what did I take?
MOM: Just lard(?) and speche (bacon), shugee (ham). But what we killed a year before. A year old.
MOM: This was butchered a year before, dry stuff. dry bacon, dry sausage…, I need a pan, I need dishes, nobody has bought pan.
DAD: The Bible, Jesus said, like when a scribe is learned to be a disciple, not the same but the same meaning, is like a wood house who brings to the table old and new. When the new came, he got old. So, not to brag but we had the, the butcher time is, but we had plenty bacon-
DAUGHTER: From last year.
DAD: -and ham and sausage.
MOM: Dry sausage.
DAD: Couple of 50 kilos, that’s 100 lb. bag (you could put wheat in), filled up with stuff, not the one but two.
MOM: So we had to carry, this was all from our house-
DAD: Put in the wheelbarrow and beside that we had a small wagon like a regular wagon just that small, and filled up that, and we pulled that.
MOM: And Reini, he start crying, he would not stay with dad for nothing, just he come.
DAD: With his mom.
MOM: With mom and filled up this wagon and then….
DAUGHTER: Why did Reini cry?
DAD: He want to go with mom.
MOM: Want to go with mom, don’t stay with dad, and with Grandpa. And Elsie and all there they’re all with me so he had to stay with dad and store keeping.
DAD: But before that happen, one night came the American soldiers.
MOM: This was not there before, after you came after. We stayed longer on this train. You came there.
DAUGHTER: Didn’t the train move?
MOM: No, no, the train don’t move and they don’t bring the people together less and less and they want to fill up, there was over 1,000 people already on, just they want to fill it up, the wagons, and one night we had such a-
MOM: Then Dad say you should go. Then you came by yourself. Is so,the third day-
DAUGHTER: What happened? You had bombings?
MOM: Bombing, and shelling, then we went all up on time in the wagons and Rosie….
DAD: Yeah, but I want to say something yet. Before you went to Orlich, was a big bombing in Vinkovci, one day and then next day in the morning, but we were prepared, they said we should go in the basement but I said no, it is not good to go in the basement but we had a big straw pile, bigger than a house, I pulled out straw and make a hole to bury inside.
DAUGHTER: A tunnel.
DAD: And here you go in, is that small, you could crawl in, the other side you crawl out. In the middle is big hole and one day we was on the roof, fixing the roof, and came the Americans but flew low.
MOM: With the shotguns. [i.e., shooting guns]
DAD: We know, run down.
MOM: The shotgun, they shot like this.
DAD: Because right after the town close was the German canons.
DAUGHTER: Like an artillery type thing.
DAD: Artillery against, when they came high, they could not shot because they know they could not.
MOM: So they come low.
DAD: And in the night they came, evening, they look out, the alarm ring out (wolf sound)
DAUGHTER: One of those kind.
DAD: Yeah, but here is a light, big light.
MOM: The whole town was light-
DAD: That I know, they are make orientation. . . . Oh, here one, here one…, now no more orientation, they know what, where they want to bomb. Run the children in the hole, and they all went in that hole, the children.
DAUGHTER: Grandpa too?
DAD: Grandpa we did call, we just take the children, we call him but he was in the garden and he was almost lost. Not almost… he fell down there.
MOM: He hold onto the tree, and all the air pressure.. this way or this way-, He was really scared. He was really scared, he could not stand up.
DAD: And under the straw was nothing, it was quiet. The people said, I said, I defend, that is the best. Basement could fall, but straw could not, if the bomb fall on top, could not fall through because of that straw, but if is a fire, started burning, one side you could not-, other side out. And then next day, and the roof was very damaged, we was on the roof. Then we saw they came low, and we run down again, it was, they killed the artillery, and after that was mom where we was …
DAUGHTER: Then you were sent to Orlich.
DAD: After that, yeah.
DAUGHTER: Okay, now we’re back to where mom got out of the train from Orlich.
DAD: And she came back home and I took her there with food, whatever I could, and I get home.
MOM: He went back to his father.
DAUGHTER: You can do that because they only want you.
DAD: Only mom. But I am not registered.
MOM: He’s not in the pages. He’s not there and I’m watched. When they saw me, how this lady get away? How she can go when there was mad. I said, I told you I will run away alive or not alive. I told this major even there in his place and he was so red. And he said, this your boy? I said, yes, this my boy. I told you I had a boy at home and I want him and I let my husband know and you don’t want to listen. I would go with the soldier, I don’t mind to have a soldier beside me. My husband is living in this town and he had a store and I had a son over there and they did not even listen to me.
DAD: So I left Reini there and I went home. We brought bread.
DAUGHTER: The next day.
DAD: Brought bread the same day.
MOM: The same day, when the bread was done, you brought bread, a loaf of bread over there and we eat good.
DAUGHTER: Who did you feed, just your family?
MOM: Aunt Rosie’s and aunt Anna’s mother and father.
DAUGHTER: They were taking just the women and children to Germany?
DAD: No, everybody but-
DAUGHTER: But dad, why not you? But dad wasn’t in Orlich. Mom was in Orlich. Oh, I see.
MOM: He don’t know them, he was not on the list … [interruption in recording] … And Reini, then they left home, and then later he brought the bread. We was still here. Now this night we had a big-
DAUGHTER: Bombing. And dad wasn’t with you.
MOM: No, he was with his dad [i.e., Grandpa Webel] and they had a very bad night, the same thing in this hole over there in the straw. I didn’t tell him when Dad [i.e., Grandpa Webel] say in the morning, “Jakob, you pick your stuff and go to your wife and children now, maybe you don’t find them ever. Go, and I’m very old, maybe one night, two nights come the same thing and I get killed and I’m old and I’m ready to die.”
DAUGHTER: Was Aunt Rosie gone by this time?
DAD: She was married. She was gone too.
MOM: Long time. Grandfather’s already old, 80, and then he sent him, Go. Then he came and bring still some stuff, still more bread and stuff and then he came there…
DAD: Not only that, and I knew what in Germany is not, no rubber, no black pepper so I brought from our store black pepper, take it in a small package, black pepper and rubber band and different things, more small things what you could take it in the hand and so.
MOM: He brought all kinds of things from the store then and then he came there.
DAD: Even if you are ready to die, you are not ready, you’re holding to life as long as you can.
MOM: Then he was laying down, he was sick.
DAUGHTER: Dad was sick? When he got to you? When was he sick?
MOM: When him there and he decided really he goes along, whatever comes and leaves his father alone in this big house. Uncle John left. Everything is…
DAUGHTER: Why didn’t Grandpa come along? He didn’t want to? He thought he was too old?
MOM: Yeah, he don’t want to come along. So dad came.
DAD: It is not so easy. It is easier to die at home than to die on the road.
DAUGHTER: Was that the last time you saw him [i.e., Grandpa Webel]?
MOM: Yes, yes.
DAUGHTER: Do you know how he died then?
MOM: Oh, yeah, later Uncle John came home and Aunt Anna when he died. He was a couple more year.
DAUGHTER: He didn’t die from the bombing.
MOM: No, no, no.
DAD: No. And so we went to Germany.
MOM: He do what he can. So he was living, the neighbor lady came over, take care of him and saw what he needed,
DAD: That the night came the American soldier, American Air Force and bombed the city. That very bad, that very bad, that was maybe a week longer burning, all the railroad station and finally they moved..
MOM: All the things and so many people was and so many houses was not even standing their house.. ”What is mine? Where is the place?”
DAUGHTER: The train leave?
DAD: It went away but not in the direction we want, it went over other direction but still over Hungary, over Vienna.
DAUGHTER: Did it eventually get to Germany?
Yes. Over Hungary and Czechoslovakia, came to – [a part of Germany] — now is it Polish.
DAUGHTER: Why did they want you to go there?
DAD: Why? Because they knew, they saw the Communist will take over that part and they knew we German have lost so and so many people in that war, and we move on to build up the German nation again.
MOM: So when we… when dad come…
DAD: And beside that, they knew when the Communists came, they will kill the German all, men and women and whatsoever they did, so they want to save as much as they can.
DAUGHTER: This is the Germans who were collecting their people . . .
DAD: The German.
MOM: We was in the wagon and dad laid down, and before we had to go over the border and you leave the Germany border, Hungary or whatever was Essig, dad wants to leave, he wants so bad to go-
DAD: To jump out and go.
MOM: -jump out-
DAUGHTER: And go back [to Yugoslavia].
MOM: -and leave all us and was so hard raining you cannot even see. And one man in the same wagon, he did this. He left the wife and the children there and went and run away back, stay in Yugoslavia. And dad wants to do the same thing just not by himself. He cannot leave his father alone and go with us, and go who knows where. So this was-
DAUGHTER: A hard decision.
MOM: -He wants to do it, but I say don’t do it. I said when one child start crying we are catched and we will go to big trouble. Must never, and then they take you and have you be still alone, so. And this what can happen with so many children. Raining hard, and now we will, in couple minutes we will go over the border, then it’s the end. And I said, no, I don’t even think you should do it. Let’s go where the other people going, the thousands and thousands people are going. What’s going to happen? We will see. Just maybe one night like last night I said that-
DAD: Many nights even during the traveling the train.
MOM: Many nights we had no machine.
DAD: We, they came, the American, and bombs and killed the locomotive or the locomotive catch up and run away, let them, everyone stay-
MOM: In the woods, we are in the woods by ourselves.
DAD: We, our family, and the Pfeiffer family, all together.
MOM: All on one pile; we all get killed. Not to see the other suffer…
DAD: If we get killed, kill all, if it’s here. And in those times, not only those times, but in that kind of time, you don’t think that’s mine bread. No, that’s ours.
MOM: — and then I went begging…
DAD: And you go, that is box car, like they call it, there’s no toilet or no anything, no water, no nothing, and they just stop the train here, now you need water and you need toilet, you need something to eat, you get nothing. Then goes somebody down to… then the train go away and the child is down, cannot bring it up or your wife, stays down, happens many thing.
MOM: — happen so many thing…
DAD: And Robert [i.e., Chaplain Robert Webel when he was an infant], he was-
DAUGHTER: He was a baby then.
DAD: He was a baby, yes. That was later, was second trip.
MOM: This was later for second, the second it was, the second trip. This was not the first.
DAD: Now we stop again somewhere, and here is, you see smoking, smoke.
MOM: Smoke, smoking in the ….
DAD: So Reini, ‘Run over there with the baby’.
MOM: Reini was scared to go, and Else too.. .
DAD: So Reini, Else, go run over there, German soldier cooking for a transport. Go over there and beg something to eat.
MOM: Coffee was everywhere.
DAD: They give it to children.
[DAUGHTER?]: They were afraid to go but then they’d be left behind.
MOM: Yeah, they afraid. They was children.
DAD: But they are going. Then Bring coffee or then bring whatever.
MOM: Sometime I went. I, and Rosie Webel the post had to watch us. He said, you have to go back. I said, we are not going back. Over there in this wagon are 10 children, you never ask is there food and we go to the soldier kitchen and we will beg something, whatever is there. And he said, when the train goes, then he goes. He’s not allowed to let us, he had to shoot or he had to report. We went anyhow. We don’t listen to him and he was so scared.
DAD: And in that boxcar was more people, not only we. When we came, when they came…
MOM: When we came to this kitchen. They want to give us all kinds of things we cannot carry. We carried the loaf bread here or one over here, then we had a hot pan, bowl full kraut or whatever they cooked and brought around.
DAD: If a man would go, maybe they would not give it, but a woman or children, they give it.
MOM: … 6:00 we should come back, then they make supper, good coffee, we can have a nice strong coffee. And Anna’s mother, she is very old, full of life, she can talk very good, and I was not scared to go with her. She was really encourage, she was an old person just she-
DAD: She was not old then, but older [than …].
MOM: She was not old, just she was talkable, she can talk to anyone, very good, better than Anna, she, when we came back, she says, see, we got food but when we came in the wagon, you should see all the people, how mad they was. How can we do such a things, without gun, without.. , We don’t went without you, we almost-
DAD: You saw was given, could go, only you could go.
MOM: You can go-
DAD: But everybody eats, for long as you had food.
MOM: We give them, too, to eat.
DAUGHTER: How many people, approximately, were in a boxcar, dad?
MOM: Ours was the last. We had not much in the . . . .
DAUGHTER: You were the last boxcar on the train.
MOM: No, no, no, the least in, they don’t want more, we had so many children because we had lay the children.
DAD: Who was else besides the Pfeiffer’s?
MOM: Pfeiffer, Brasenkovich . . . Guttwein.. . .
DAD: Nobody else.
MOM: Nobody else.
DAUGHTER: Then how many people? You said 10 children.
MOM: She had 4 children the Guttwien’s, and we had 6, and they had 4, this was 10, ours what we count, we never counted Guttwien’s.
DAD: Guttwein had 2.
MOM: Four, four.
DAUGHTER: So you had 14 children.
DAUGHTER: And how many adults?
MOM: Old Brasenkovich and…
DAD: Yeah, we are 5.
MOM: And there was just 1.
DAD: There was 6.
MOM: Her husband stayed
DAUGHTER: That’s pretty good.
MOM: So was not too bad.
DAUGHTER: Did you have blankets or anything like that, dad? Did you take any of that stuff from the store?
DAUGHTER: Nothing like that.
MOM: Yeah, you went ???
DAD: Yes, not only blankets but our dunyas(?) too.
DAUGHTER: Oh, the feather beds.
MOM: The feather pillows and feather beds. He went home and brought this.
DAD: I am a salesman, I know to pack and very tight pack packed.
MOM: A little bundle has a lots in. He had this, he got the strings all in the store, the good, new…
DAUGHTER: Yeah, the good, heavy twine.
DAD: The twine, yeah. So I packed it, we had that our bedstuff . . .
MOM: Bed stuff, when we was in this wagon, when it start moving, the train, nobody went, I would not have a dishrag or a rag, there was no rag for wiping our hands, whatever, they’ve got just their good clothes, that’s all. They had in the middle night, are you going pee? The children …
DAD: After we have eaten, then there is a locomotive, and then they are running with hot water, with steam, run there with pail and back and you have hot water. You open this and they get hot water, it’s good for washing the dishes and for the face.
MOM: Washing the children all the face-
DAD: In the same dish.
MOM: Yeah, well, we took it also out, not always you don’t always washing inside.
DAD: But you have to be-
DAUGHTER: How many cars were you back from the locomotive, about?
MOM: About 50. Oh, yeah.
DAD: But when you stopped, you would run there.
MOM: Sure, when I need to wash diapers, I’d wash diapers and hang them out on the clippers, and put the things out and they would dry very quick (LAUGHTER)
DAUGHTER: Could you see through the boxcar?
[DAD?]: No, no, no, it was solid.
DAUGHTER: Some of them used to be like cattle ones.
DAD: No, was solid, but just the door was open.
DAUGHTER: Moved. right?
MOM: That was locked, the one side was open, can roll it open or half can close it. So we put all kinds of things, make it like a cover,toilet where they go, like you cannot-
DAUGHTER: Private a little bit.
MOM: You cannot the old people, only little children or-
DAD: In a corner, hang a curtain up and-
MOM: Put a curtain up and open the door and –
DAUGHTER: Throw it out.
DAUGHTER: Hope nobody got hit-
MOM: Make a little bit private or somthing like this.
DAUGHTER: So approximately how long were you in this train?
DAD: Maybe 2 weeks huh Mom?
MOM: Long enough, long enough.
DAUGHTER: About 2 weeks.
DAD: Many times nothing to eat for a day or two.
MOM: Yeah, and once they had to-
DAD: But we had that sausage in the-, you know, you are not allowed to open . Nobody is allowed to know, even not the children. Because when the children know it’s here, they would ask, and if one person know beside you, then everybody knows. So we just scarcely opened it, cut little bit off.
MOM: Get something in your stomach, this was all we had, never filled up.
DAD: Then we came there and unload from the train in Germany.
MOM: Many days on this train, then the transport was, they say, now 4:00 we arrive over there in Prague or somewhere where we was, we will have a good meal, we can go there with our dish, we get good meal and all the people will be fed. Yeah, was not so! We don’t arrive this night and this foods have to stay overnight and the next day this time almost, and when Dad brought this food in the wagon. I was not feeling food, this was stinky, I said, no, I would not eat this, stinks this food, And Dad told me: ‘how you can say this before the children, this food stinks?’ Now, we had finally something to give them and all they look at me. I will not eat, I will not eat. And he forced some dish, they have to eat, and I’m not hungry and the other said, I’m not hungry, And Dad start eating, okay. I cannot eat, rather I die. I cannot eat. This stink this food, you know, this was just couple hours, they threw up. They was so sick, all, the whole transport was sick from this food, they had them keep this food overnight in these big kettles for over thousand people.
DAUGHTER: There was over 1,000 on the train… .
* * * * *
[ TO BE CONTINUED, D.v. ]
The next report (D.v.) resumes the chronicle of the Webel family exodus, from train rides to refugee life, eventually leading to a successful migration to America, with some of their future offspring, descended from young Robert Webel (who was just a baby when the Webel family left Yugoslavia for Germany), to eventually arrive on Earth as native Texans. That same Robert Webel (who emigrated from Yugoslavia, as a baby, with his family fleeing Communism) is the father of Stephen Webel, who is father (by his wife Erica) of brothers Nate and Luke Webel, the two native Texans mentioned on the first page of this report. (Thus Robert Webel, born in WWII, is the paternal grandfather of Nate, Luke, and their sisters.)
So, for now, this “chapter” rests with an appreciation that two native-Texan boys, Nate Webel (born in AD2007) and Luke Webel (born in AD2012), as well as their sisters, descend from German immigrant stock (“Volksdeutsche”) who trace back one ancestral line to paternal grandfather’s parents, Jakob Webel and Katarina Schleicher, whose early family life together included surviving WWII.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. James J. S. Johnson is a member of the German-Texas Heritage Society, and an occasional contributor to its Journal pages. A lover and teacher of Providential history and geography, Jim has taught at 4 different Christian colleges (LeTourneau University, Dallas Christian College, Concordia University Texas at Fort Worth, and ICR School of Biblical Apologetics) in Texas, as well as aboard 9 different cruise ships. As a C.P.E.E. (Certified Paternity Establishment Entity, credentialed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office), Jim maintains a strong interest in family history documentation. After studying under many teachers, at many schools, Jim happily acknowledges that his best teacher (under God) was Chaplain Robert (Bob) Webel.
Below is a newspaper caption, dated 3-19-AD1951, with the “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen” Webel family, who immigrated to America.
Also shown (below) is Chaplain Robert Webel (who was 8 when his family came as refugees to America) with his wife, Marcia, residents of Florida. Chaplain Bob Webel provided information supplementing and clarifying his sister’s interview of their parents (titled From Vinkovci to Medina) quoted hereinabove.
><> JJSJ email@example.com
The 4 earlier episodes, in this Webel family history series, are published as follows:
(1) “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part One: Jakob and Katarina Agreed to Marry Before They Ever Spoke to Each Other, A True Example of Love at First Sight…and First Sound”, Journal of the German-Texan Heritage Society, 35(1):25-32 (spring 2013), quoting from Rosalie Webel Whiting’s From Vinkovci to Medina (unpublished Webel family history), supplemented by personal interviews with Chaplain Robert Webel (during August AD2012);
(2) “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part Two: Volksdeutsche in Croatia, before World War II: Jakob and Katarina Webel are Merchants in Marinci (Taking Care of Business and the Business of Life)”, Journal of the German-Texan Heritage Society, 36(3):154-170 (fall 2014);
(3) “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part Three: World War II Confronts Jakob and Katarina Webel (Swabians Face Nazi Invaders and Yugoslavia’s Break-up)”, Journal of the German-Texan Heritage Society, 37(2):98-113 (summer 2015); and
(4) “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part Four: Surviving in Yugoslavia, Then Fleeing for the First Time – Jakob & Katarina Webel Escape from Marinci to Vinkovci,” Journal of the German-Texan Heritage Society, 37(4):219-240 (winter 2015).